Logic provides “pigeonholes” into which concepts are placed. There exist a-priori logical notions such as sequence, hierarchy, cause and effect, etc., and it is by means of the a-priori “pigeonholes” these provide that ideas are structured, sorted and arranged. Normally, when engaging in a cognitive exercise, the overall structure of pigeonholes, or the axioms, remain intact, and it is merely the a-posteriori ideas which are assigned appropriate places in the system. At times during the cognitive process, and especially when rethinking an issue or moreover challenging and criticizing previously held views, a considerable reshuffling occurs—but again, the “filing system” usually remains intact.

But then there are those rarer sets of ideas that shatter the previous shelving system. The previous axioms fall away, and a new shelving system, a new set of axioms takes their place. Such is the case with Dirah Betachtonim: Dirah Betachtonim has not only its own structuring of ideas, but even its own a-priori logical framework by which they are structured.

Normally, when a religious work assigns primacy, even in an innovative way, to a particular form of worship, to some particular mitzvah, the theological axioms remain intact. In effect, the work claims that in ways which have previously not been recognized, specifically this form of worship rates at a certain high point on the normative yardstick of religious values, specifically this mitzvah fits, as it were, into the uppermost pigeonhole of the shelving system—for it, in particular, raises man to greater heights. But Dirah Betachtonim, as we have learned, does not stop here at all. It claims that greatness itself is of relatively less value, whereas the mundane and the lowly are of relatively greater value. The yardstick itself is overturned. Clearly, if this system is to be logical, a new set of axioms must be in place.

How is this axiomatic revolution achieved?

In a nutshell, by broadening the frame of reference, by noticing and then focusing upon a pigeonhole that previously went unnoticed. The introduction of this new pigeonhole into the logical framework forces an a-priori rearrangement of all the other pigeonholes.

An analogy: A number of tables are assessed for their relative values. When viewed from a distance, one particular table is considered the most valuable: it is the largest, the most tastefully crafted and colored. But when the viewers move closer, their opinion changes. In fact, the table which at first appeared to be the least valuable of all is now considered the most expensive of all. For it alone—the smallest, most tastelessly shaped and colored table—is made of bronze, rather than wood.

What was the difference between the first and second assessments? During the first assessment, it was taken for granted that all the tables were made of wood. Thus, the material of which the tables were fashioned was conveniently ignored, and the superimposed attributes, such as size, shape and color were appraised. Whereas the second assessment was broader; another, more basic factor, was introduced to the arena. The material of the tables was no longer a constant baseline from which to proceed with evaluation; it too became subject to evaluation. Thus, the notion of a wooden table—which previously meant nothing in terms of value—now assumed meaning; and, in turn, the perception of all relative values became rearranged. Axioms change with the scope of inquiry.

(Put somewhat more in the abstract: as long as one entertained the notion that wood “must-be”—wood was regarded as “zero,” and the evaluation proceeded beyond this point (ascribing greatest value to table x). But once the possibility of there being no wood was recognized, the baseline moved further back, and the factor “wooden table” became of value, and ultimately the entire perception of relative values was rearranged.)

Something similar to this is what occurs in the Dirah Betachtonim system. A new “pigeonhole,” an aspect of G‑d and reality hitherto not focused upon, is now brought into focus; a basic dimension previously taken for granted is now included in the evaluation—whereupon the axioms change, and consequently the entire array of ideas and concepts undergoes a comprehensive change.

Normally, when evaluating the nature of reality, forms of worship or the nature of G‑d, there is something we tend to overlook, something we take for granted; a constant baseline only beyond which all evaluation occurs. There is one issue we regard as zero, one “pigeonhole” more or less non-existent in our evaluations: namely, existence itself.

As for reality, we take it for granted that we exist, and that everything around us and all we hear about exists. For our minds begin their inquiries only once they themselves exist, and begin inquiry into outside objects only once those objects too exist (at least in potential, theory, etc.). Thus when we learn of something new, we ask: Does it move? does it grow? does it feel, or think? Is it big or small? strong or weak? pleasant or unpleasant? poetic or prosaic? But we do not ask: Does it exist? If it did not exist there would be nothing to talk about. And hence, the usual conclusions of our evaluations: that which moves is greater than that which is inert; that which feels and thinks surpasses that which is not conscious; that which is big, strong, pleasant or poetic is superior to that which is small, weak, unpleasant or prosaic.

But Dirah Betachtonim expands its field of inquiry. It takes nothing—absolutely nothing—for granted, and hence incorporates the very fact of existence itself into its equations. Dirah Betachtonim, proceeding from creation ex nihilo, entertains the notion of nothing—not only no qualities—existing at all, and thus its baseline moves to non existence, and existence ipso facto becomes a “pigeonhole,” worthy of note. As it were, the substance of the table, not only the superimposed forms, assumes value. And once this additional factor is included, the axioms, and in turn, the relative values of the entire array of existing entities undergo revolutionary change.

Similarly with regard to worship. So long as we wish to find metaphysical and religious value only in what reality means and represents, only in the religious qualities of reality, we will of course ascribe greater value to prayer than to wrapping tefillin leather on the arm, to meditation rather than to wearing woolen tzitzit. The former manifest greater metaphysical and religious meaning, the former rate higher on the yardsticks of refinement and transcendence, the former are more Divinely colored. But with this approach we are ignoring the most fundamental of religious facts. We are overlooking the fact that this reality is not only an entity that can develop a relationship with G‑d; that is, a self-substantial entity that can exhibit characteristics that appeal to G‑d, that is able to find lines of communication with Him. In other words, an entity of equal ontological status with G‑d that relates within the framework and via the possibilities available to two equally existing beings. Far more than this is the case: this reality was created by G‑d, owes its very being to G‑d, and, therefore, its very being, être, is involved in a significant relationship with G‑d. Once this normally overlooked dimension is included in our assessment—the axioms change, and the relative values are rearranged: It becomes evident that specifically that which is devoid of meaning, that which in no way can be described as refined or sublime but is finite, hard and fast—those forms of behavior whose being is not tainted by superimpositions, those acts that merely are—fit into the pigeonhole at the top of the newly arranged hierarchy: being, essence.

The same is true with regard to G‑d. In religious discussions, G‑d’s existence is normally taken for granted. Thus, we ask: Is it G‑d’s wisdom or love? Is it His omnipotence or His benevolence? Is it His infinity or His transcendence? Now taking G‑d’s existence for granted is of course appropriate. With regard to G‑d, non-existence must not be entertained. But why in fact must it not be entertained? Precisely because G‑d represents that which exists, in and of Himself, from all time to all time, due to nothing else outside of Himself, and of His very nature must exist and cannot not exist. This existence dimension of G‑d is the most fundamental and important aspect of G‑d. Hereby we recognize that G‑d is not of one substance with man and reality, merely different in degree or kind—man knows but G‑d knows all, or even man is finite but G‑d is infinite—but rather G‑d is of a totally different substance: He, unlike man or world, is not created or contingent, but absolute, existing in and of Himself. Dirah Betachtonim gives full weight to this overriding aspect of G‑d, and hence in an axiomatic shift redirects religious man away from G‑d’s wisdom, love or transcendence, towards His Essence, His Being—to be found specifically in the prosaic, physical and finite.

In sum, Dirah Betachtonim corrects the erroneous “zero value” given to mere existence in our “equations” concerning reality, worship and G‑d. It gives full value to that first of all religious statements, “In the beginning G‑d created...1,” acknowledging the full implications of creation ex nihilo: there was once non-existence, and therefore primordial non-existence is the most basic baseline beyond which all occurs, the primary frame of reference from which to evaluate all that occurs within it—including the phenomenon of existence per se. And once existence itself is recognized as a noteworthy “pigeonhole,” conventional religious hierarchies are drastically reshuffled.

And thus, as outlined in the previous chapters, whether it be the relative importance of various worlds, the structure of the unity of the cosmos, the nature of the G‑d-world relationship, the significance of various traits of reality, or the roles of body and soul or of forms of worship—we begin to appreciate the Ma'alat hatachton (the elevation of that which is lower): the unique religious value of the physical and finite, which is both co-essential with the Divine Essence as well as particularly reflecting of its self-centered independence. And we thus come to recognize that in the performance of physical mitzvot in the here and now, as nowhere else, man reaches the highest union with G‑d: here his yesh merges, realizing its co-essence, with the Ultimate and Absolute Yesh.